The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) believes that the European Commission’s recently proposed facial recognition law does not do enough to protect the civil liberties of people on the continent. The Supervisor is consequently asking legislators to adopt stronger measures, and implement a full ban on public facial recognition technology.
EDPS Wojciech Wiewiórowski issued his critique after the Commission released draft legislation that would ostensibly prohibit the use of face-based surveillance systems in public places. However, the law was riddled with exceptions (most notably for criminal investigations), prompting critics to argue that the privacy of individual citizens would still be compromised due to the invasive nature of remote biometric systems.
Wiewiórowski’s statement indicates that he agrees with that assessment. While he acknowledged that there are some advantages to a risk-based approach that allows biometric surveillance to be used in certain situations, he ultimately concluded that the law does not reflect the best interests of the general public. He then went on to call for a ban on all forms of biometric surveillance, grouping facial recognition with other modalities like gait recognition, voice recognition, and DNA identification.
“The EDPS regrets to see that our earlier calls for a moratorium on the use of remote biometric identification systems — including facial recognition — in publicly accessible spaces have not been addressed by the Commission,” said Wiewiórowski in his statement. “A stricter approach is necessary given that remote biometric identification, where AI may contribute to unprecedented developments, presents extremely high risks of deep and non-democratic intrusion into individuals’ private lives.”
The European Commission had originally floated the possibility of a facial recognition ban in a draft of a white paper in early 2020. The ban was removed from the final version of that paper, before eventually resurfacing in the months that followed.
The Council of Europe has also asked the countries to prohibit profiling technology that watches for members of select demographic groups. The Commission’s latest proposal will likely go through several revisions, and is not expected to become law until next year at the earliest.
April 27, 2021 – by Eric Weiss